A lot of “Traditional Heavy Metal” bands come pretty much pre-packaged and ready to go by record labels. Polished, easy to market, and ready for their 15 minutes of “fame.” But it is often the less polished bands that cause the eyebrow elevation for yours truly. Take Chile’s Lucifer’s Hammer. On debut Beyond the Omens, their mostly Maiden-minded metal has room to improve, for sure, but certain aspects – most notably the earworm hooks and some irresistible lead work – really leave a man hungry to see these guys develop and grow as musicians.
Nearly every aspect of the Lucifer’s Hammer sound can be traced back to the NWOBHM, specifically Iron Maiden. Galloping guitars, harmonized leads, hooky vocals, and smooth solos—it’s all here, but there are a few other things going on. Specifically, you occasionally hear a riff that sounds less like old British metal and more like classic Kiss; listen for that Frehley snark in “Dying,” one of the album’s real highlights. There’s also a less metal, more UFO or Scorpions hard rockin’ personality to the album, even if the riffing comes from heavier sources.
For the most part, this combination makes Beyond the Omens a blast of an album. There are, however, a few gripes that can’t be left ungriped. First is the vocal performance of frontman Hades, which is fairly comparable in style to that of Angel Witch’s Kevin Heybourne. While he has a great knack for delivering memorable melodies, Hades doesn’t always understand his range, and occasionally stretches outside of his real abilities (or way outside of it, as during “Warriors”). The drumming can also feel a tad stiff when it should just be leading the flow. The twitches during the bridge of opener “The Hammer of the Gods” add less punch than they do distraction, for instance.
But when it romps, it romps. One of the album’s raddest moments, and the best showcase of the band’s prowess and potential, is the track “Lucifer’s Hammer.” At over six minutes of twisting and turning heavy metal fury, the track calls to mind the best instrumental passages of Di’Anno-era Maiden, and is completely deserving of the comparison. Then there are those leads… Like a Somewhere in Time Dave Murray crossed with the feeling of driving 90 down a highway in a T-Top Camaro, the soloing here is as fun as it is tied into the flow of the songs. Nowhere are the leads better than on the closing title track, when the background music gives the dueling solos space to spread out. (And yes, this album contains both an eponymous song and title track. Heavy metal tradition, with a twist!)
All in all, the faults of Beyond the Omens simply can’t hold back all the fun going on within these 40 minutes. The leads and infectious hooks are enough to keep a listener coming back, but more than that is the palpable sense of joy in these songs. Perhaps that’s why I’ll take this, flaws and all, over other more heavily-marketed trad metal bands. Lucifer’s Hammer possesses a joie de vivre that doesn’t feel like it is part of a marketing campaign, and the result is a very promising debut.